Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Mack Brook Slides: 6/28/22

A bushwhack up the Mack Brook valley on the south side of Scar Ridge to climb two gravelly slides with good views. It's a two-mile whack to the base of the main slide on the valley headwall. The first half of the whack is through hardwood forest. Not far into this section I stirred up a bull moose who apparently was resting on the ground about six feet to my right. Gave me quite a start when he stood up and sauntered off through the woods.

Some boulders were scattered through the forest.

A nice glade passed along the way.

The second mile is through conifer forest. Old logging roads were of some use part of the way.

The broad upper floor of the valley is remarkably flat.

Up here Mack Brook dwindles to a tiny creek.

A few ferny birch glades mingle with the conifer forest.

At the north end of the flat area I reached the gentle runout of the main slide.

Interesting plates of rock embedded in the gravel.

The main slide in sight ahead.


The lower part of the headwall slide is fairly steep, with gravel and loose rock on the left and a rocky gully on the right.

I have not been able to determine when the Mack Brook slides fell. My best guess is 1954 during Hurricane Carol, at the same time as several slides on neighboring Mt. Osceola. They look fairly fresh in 1960 aerial photos.

My clinometer showed a slope of about 30 degrees at the foot of the slide. Overall, however, this slide averages a relatively low angle of 24 degrees.

Wide and dry, almost desert-like.

In his 1950s study, White Mountain slide researcher Edward Flaccus noted that these areas of rocky rubble and eroded glacial till are "barrens" where revegetation occurs very slowly, consisting mainly of stunted birch, spruce and fir. Many of the mini-trees in this harsh habitat exhibit chlorosis, a yellowing of the leaves due to lack of chlorophyll. 

A jumble of weathered boulders, probably Mt. Osceola Granite.

A white pine, struggling for survival.

Partway up the slide, on a shelf where some soil has accumulated, is a large patch of Rhodora that would put on a fine display of pink flowers in early June.

There are a few clusters of hardy ferns. Researcher Edward Flaccus recorded both spinulose wood fern and beech fern on several slides.

Side view.

From bottom to top, this slide offers a wide-screen view to the south, framed by southerly spurs of Scar Ridge. This was my third visit, and all have been enjoyable.

Looking up to the top of the slide, at 3200 ft.

This is the steepest pitch on the slide.

View from the top.

Zoomed. Peaks visible in the distance include Kearsarge, Ragged, Sunapee and Cardigan.

The uppermost cut of the slide can tempt as a gateway to a seldom-used route to the summit of Scar Ridge. However, speaking from experience, the going is steep and thick above, and near the top is complicated by a wide band of massive blowdown caused by the 2017 Halloween storm. Beware!

I descended partway along the main slide, then made a prickly sidehill bushwhack to the short but steep slide on the west side of the valley.

This slide has an average slope of about 34 degrees - much steeper than the headwall slide.

This slide is mostly loose gravel, with some ledge slabs mixed in.

This ledge comes in with a hefty 45-degree pitch - too steep for friction climbing for a non-technical climber like me. It was easy enough to skirt around it.

Scrambling up ledges to the top of the slide.



This slide has nice views as well, including a southern spur of Scar Ridge across the valley.

I've never heard of anyone using this ridge as a route to ascend Scar Ridge.

Looking up from the bottom of the western slide.

After whacking back to the main slide, I enjoyed some late afternoon views before heading down into the woods.


Sunday, June 26, 2022

The Garden Slide: 6/24/22

A leisurely tour of the Downes Brook Slide on the NW flank of Mt. Passaconaway, with naturalist Dan Newton and his slide-climbing companion, Friday. We took plenty of time to examine the varied plant life thriving on and alongside the slide.

The water was low in Downes Brook, making the four crossings on the Downes Brook Trail fairly easy. Still, many of the rocks were slippery from the previous night's rain and careful foot placement was needed.

Ledge step at the base of the open slabs on the slide.

Dan and Friday ascend the expansive, low-angle (17 to 21 degrees, as measured by my clinometer) lower slabs of the slide, composed of Conway Granite.

We took a long break here to savor the scene. Dan relaxes in his portable camp chair.

Friday found his own spot in a nearby patch of woods.

View of Potash Mountain from our break spot. This slide fell around 1892, and 130 years later vegetation has yet to grab a foothold on the open slabs, though it has made inroads along crevices and on residual islands of soil.

Though, remarkably, the slide was virtually bug-free, Dan demonstrated the art of making an insect-deterring "smudge" with a slow-burning fungus known as tinder polypore. This fungus was found on the body of the prehistoric (~3300 B.C.) Iceman, whose mummified remains were discovered in 1991 in the Italian Alps.

Summertime, and the livin' is easy.

We spent some time surveying the plant life around the slabs, such as this patch of Rhodora, starting to go to fruit.

In a soil-retaining crevice are a small white pine and a prematurely-turning red maple.

Lance-leaved goldenrod, which will flower later in the summer.

Sedges are not easy to identify, but this may be Eastern rough sedge, which was found on 5 of 22 White Mountain slides surveyed by researcher Edward Flaccus in the late 1950s.

A patch of Sheep Laurel along the edge of the slide.

Dan botanized all along the slide. The variety and patterns of vegetation on the lower slabs prompted him to name this the "Garden Slide."

Heading up, we obtained this view from the top of the lower slabs, with Mt. Eisenhower in the distance.

Looking down the lower slide. Numerous wet, slick slabs necessitated careful attention to footing. Bushwhack detours into the woods (treading carefully to minimize impact on vegetation) avoided several potentially dangerous spots.

Dan captures the scene at a small ledge-step cascade.


A colorful strip of algae.

Dan spotted a significant colony of round-leaved sundew, a tiny carnivorous plant that traps insect prey with the sticky droplets on its leaves. Edward Flaccus recorded this species on 9 of 22 White Mountain slides he surveyed in the late 1950s.

A scenic route up several series of ledge slabs.

The northern spur of Mt. Passaconaway - location of the great north-facing viewpoint accessed by a side path off the Walden Trail - rises 1500 ft. above this spot on the slide.

Bushwhacking around a large steep and wet slab just below "the turn of the slide," a point where the 1892 slide makes a sharp right turn up a steep slope and a more recent slide (possibly 1938) comes down the drainage straight ahead.

We followed the course of the 1892 slide up the steep slope in the woods, bypassing two very steep, wet, massive ledges, in part on a remnant of the long-abandoned Downes Brook Slide Trail. By 1900 this trail had been established along the route of the slide, and was later maintained by the Passaconaway Mountain Club (based in the Albany Intervale) and then the WMNF. Maintenance ended in 1957 due to the slippery ledges, which are especially hazardous when wet - even the low-angle lower slabs. In some sections there is virtually no trace of the old trail; this slide is for experienced slide climbers/bushwhackers only. At the top of the open slide, at ~2800 ft., we edged carefully out for fine views to the north, all the way to Mt. Washington. 

Bringing Potash Mountain and Mt. Carrigain into view.

The massive, mighty Carrigain.

Looking up the higher of the two ledges slabs above the turn of the slide.

Side view of the lower of the two slabs. Too steep and slick to climb.

Slab, cascade and golden pool just below the turn of the slide.

Another sedge by the golden pool, possibly white-edged sedge, which was found on 12 of 22 White Mountain slides by Edward Flaccus.

Looking back up at Passaconaway's northern spur.

Late afternoon sun on the ledges.

Happy friends.

Parting shot.